Tech For Good (Capsule 1) was an interesting panel discussion that took place at the online MaGIC E-Nation for 2021. It was moderated by Mohd Safuan Mohd Zairi, the senior vice president of Tech and Innovation in MaGIC, with panelists comprising:
- Yasmin Rasyid, the founder and president of EcoKnights;
- Philip Loo, the co-founder and CEO of HAVVA Agrotech Sdn Bhd;
- Sean Chee, the founder and CEO of Sunago Education.
The goal of this talk was for the audience to learn how these entrepreneurs have found balance in running a business with socially responsible impacts, through the use of technology.
Yasmin founded EcoKnights in 2005 out of a passion for driving sustainability among communities via sustainability-driven programmes with corporate partnerships, youth volunteers, and communities.
They’ve previously held events like an online composting workshop, soap-making classes, a casual river walk, and also their annual KL Eco Film Fest.
Last year they held their first digital film fest, one of the many pivots they had to make due to COVID-19. It went from being just a KL festival to one that everyone all over the globe could tune into.
“This was a good indicator for us that our reach actually increased during the lockdown,” she explained.
Meanwhile, Sean founded Sunago Education as an online education platform primarily teaching English, as he believes it’s the lingua franca of this day and age.
Before the pandemic hit the world hard, they scaled up within a weekend to serve the 900 learners in their programme with 75 teachers over 2 days, which paid off and cushioned them well.
Philip who co-founded HAVVA saw a problem when he realised more than 70% of the land in urban cities were too expensive to farm on.
So, he wanted to find a way to produce large amounts of food in limited spaces with less labour, less pollution, no toxic pesticides, water conservation, while making it as approachable as possible for beginners with an affordable cost.
Hence, they found a solution by combining aquaponics and vertical farming. They managed to design these farming landscapes to serve even community and commercial farms.
After their sharing sessions on the work they do, they began answering some questions related to running a business with impact.
A Mindset Switch On Sustainability
Some people may wonder what the point of having a circular business model is, if sustainability isn’t a priority for them.
Dictionary Time: A circular business model articulates the logic of how an organisation creates, offers, and delivers value to its broader range of stakeholders while minimising ecological and social costs.
Yasmin first pointed out that a mindset change was needed when trying to understand sustainability. She shared that sustainability was more than just the 3R’s, saving our rivers, composting, etc. Instead, it’s in almost every aspect of our lives, like our access to education, addressing gender inequality, running a low-carbon business, and more.
“And if you’re in financial institutions, sustainability is not going to run away. We are moving towards an era where financial institutions need to be very ESG compliant, and to be a responsible company as well. So, I think it will catch up.”
“Sustainability is a top priority. You’re talking about charting the future, whether it’s a business ecosystem or a livelihood, that is balanced economically, socially, and environmentally.”
Partnerships Can Have Non-Monetary Exchanges
Partnerships aren’t always developed just to increase profit or sales for involved parties. Having partnered with all kinds of institutions from government officials to telcos, Sean pointed out that the value exchanged in partnerships may sometimes be non-monetary.
For example, he shared how some companies that have reached out to Sunago did not need English training for themselves, but instead wanted to benefit a community. We’re seeing this happen more commonly nowadays, especially with the corporate sector and the CSR efforts they carry out.
For Yasmin, she shared that choosing a partner comes when your partner can drive something you can’t, like help to scale up or reaching out to a different audience.
Balancing Profit And Impact
Yasmin explained honestly that you can’t deliver impact if you can’t make a profit. “You have a team that needs to be fed and developed. While I don’t have a specific formula, you do more when you do well in your bank account,” she added, emphasising the importance of profit incentivising impact-making.
Projections and careful financial planning are some ways in which you can ensure your organisation can be sustained, and once you’ve got an idea of what your financials are, you can then measure and plan what kind of impact can be carried out.
And again, she brought it back to finding a partner, stating that this would be the moment where you may begin thinking which partner would suit your needs here to grow your impact.
It’s also best practice to stay relevant to what our society needs at any point in time, and to be smart enough to pivot accordingly to address those needs.
Sean believes that you can also make an impact without hurting your bank account. For instance, when they noticed that there were more unemployed teachers over the pandemic, Sunago provided free online education training over the weekends to benefit them.
After that, they realised they were then able to employ these trained teachers to be a part of their platform. “So, we kind of turned it around and made a Grab model out of it, and were able to sell the services of some of our unemployed teachers to the rest of the world,” Sean said.
Something I took away from the event was that digital innovations do need the right time to fully benefit a business. In a way, it feels like businesses that were built with impact at the forefront of their mission were able to predict what the future would need.
These technopreneurs were already providing solutions for problems that many weren’t aware of yet, or that didn’t seem like a big deal then, and it is only now that we’re realising the importance of their technologies for sustainability, whether it’s to protect our ecosystem or for remote learning.
It’s clear that running a socially responsible business is becoming a more widely acknowledged venture, with impact investments on the rise. Millennials are more impact-conscious too, and this can be seen in the increase of recycling, conservation, upcycling efforts, and more, that we take part in.
There’s a major shift now happening in our ecosystem, and every stakeholder would need to be tuned in, in order to stay relevant.
- You can watch this E-Nation programme here.
- You can read about more E-Nation articles we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Philip Loo of HAVVA Agrotech, Yasmin Rasyid of EcoKnights, and Sean Chee of Sunago Education
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